Pushing back against chilling efforts to criminalize free speech on social media, the ACLU of Michigan will appear at a court hearing tomorrow in defense of a Detroit man charged with directing “terroristic threats” at police officers after he vented about killing cops in a Facebook post last year.
“This man was angry about the pattern of police violence against unarmed black men, so he took to his Facebook post to express that anger,” said ACLU of Michigan Deputy Legal Director Dan Korobkin. “He was sharply critical of the police, and it’s understandable that some found what he said to be inappropriate and disturbing. But let’s be clear: he didn’t hurt anyone, nor did he plan to. In America, we don’t arrest people, or prosecute them as ‘terrorists,’ just because they say things the police don’t like. We’re not a police state.”
Detroit police arrested Nheru Gowan Littleton last year after he posted “All lives can’t matter until Black Lives matter!!! Kill all white cops!!!” on his Facebook page in the aftermath of several fatal police shootings of unarmed black men nationwide.
Arguments before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans are scheduled to begin at 9 am. Littleton is represented by private counsel , and the ACLU has filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the First Amendment requires dismissal of the criminal prosecution.
In its brief, the ACLU acknowledged that the Facebook posts were shocking and wrong. But it points out Littleton never implied that he would harm anyone, nor did he direct his speech toward any individual. “Abstract advocacy of violence is not a threat and is protected by the First Amendment,” the brief notes. Similarly, “crude or offensive hyperbole uttered in the broader context of contentious political debate” is constitutionally protected speech.
However, that didn’t stop Detroit Police Chief James Craig from publicizing efforts to prosecute Littleton. After Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy rebuffed Craig’s request to press criminal charges—she too noted that Littleton’s comments did not amount to a “true threat”—Craig went to state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who filed charges.
“It’s disappointing that law enforcement officials would disregard the constitutional protections for statements like Mr. Littleton’s,” said Korobkin. “Nobody needs to protect speech we all like or agree with. It’s precisely the type of expression that Mr. Littleton engaged in— unpopular and even disturbing speech—that the First Amendment was designed to safeguard.”